This is a glorious time, brothers and sisters. A new fresh alternative to UFC made its way to us late night on December 29th, all the way back in the year 2015, courtesy of a Russian-bankrolled Japanese-based MMA promotion and broadcast on Russian television for the both nights, additionally airing on Spike in the US for night 2 in an edited form. This event, as well as the next one that took place a couple nights later on New Year’s Eve, took place from the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Immediately, this felt different. As I mentioned, night 1 aired only in Russia, so the feed was in Russian and had all of the glory that comes with a live broadcast full of commercials (including a brawny Santa in his boxers that looked a bit like Diamond Dallas Page, Lay’s potato chips with Russian techno) and Russian versions of SportsCenter, complete with a set that went from normal to being digitally superimposed to be in an animated snow skiing field, with even a skier shooting snow towards the broadcaster. The logo in the top of the screen for the channel also had snow falling onto it throughout. Such a silly, silly broadcast.
The fun that was this Russian feed…
The stadium was huge. There were sweeping shots of the crowd throughout the broadcast. While it didn’t appear to be sold out, the majority of the seats were full. Lasers shoot across the stadium, with loud music blaring and huge draped lighting rigs stood above, with the Rizin logo emblazoned in neon behind them.
The event itself started off with quite the pageantry, a drummer beating on an absolutely huge drum. The fighters are paraded out one by one. Each fighter was introduced by the announcer from Pride, who screamed every single name in her signature style. I popped hard hearing “Saaaaaaaaaaakuuuururrrrrrrrrrraaaaabaaaaaaaaaa!” and seeing Sakuraba make his way down the entrance. Sakuraba’s opponent, Aoki looked like he was rolling on ecstasy or something as he danced down the entrance.
Sakuraba looking ready for war, while Aoki dances like he’s at the club.
James Thompson vs. Tsuyoski Kosaka
Who would have imagined that a fighter coming in 29 FUCKING POUNDS overweight would have not been in the best shape of his career? I refuse to believe it. Thompson looked like he had only a few days of training for the fight (which turned out to be true), but his size allows him some obvious advantages, like strength and the ability to throw people around who are way under your size. The fight was to be ruled a no contest if Thompson won, so nothing was on the line, but Kosaka (who hadn’t fought in 10 years and clocked in at 45 years old) didn’t let that stop him and he cracked Thompson to take him out of the fight and collect the winner’s share of the purse (plus theoretically 20% of Thompson’s).
Winner: Kosaka (by TKO in 1:58 of round 2)
Kirill Sidelnikov vs. Carlos Toyota
Kirill “Baby Fedor” Sidelnikov was slow and deliberate, but had good angles and a hell of a punch to go with it. His sheer brute strength made him look good while being able to dominate. No finesse, but it wasn’t necessary to stop Toyota in short order with a KO.
Winner: Baby Fedor (by TKO in 2:23 of round 1)
Felipe Efrain vs. Yuki Motoya
The fight started with both men feeling each other out, but that quickly changed. Efrain threw a flying kick but missed. Motoya’s combos made the difference and he was quick to follow up. Motoya got a takedown but unable to capitalize. Motoya took Efrain’s back, but he was able to stand. Human backpack time! Motoyo continued to wear down Efrain and tried multiple choke attempts and landed many hits from his back. Efrain was unable to defend properly. Motoya took Efrain down again but he was quick to get up. Efrain attempted to use ropes for leverage but people outside the ring pulled his hands off. Efrain was able to turn the tide in a standing exchange, which brought Motoya to his back on the canvas and hammer fisted Motoya into oblivion. A real surprise pulling out the win.
Winner: Efrain (by TKO in 5:45 of round 1; later ruled No Contest due to Effrain not making weight)
Akiyo Nishura vs. Hiroya
K-1 Kickboxing rules: 3 minute rounds
This was the fight I dubbed “Battle Of The Stupid Hair”. Hiroya had pretty cool stupid hair, with asymmetrical angles and shaved lines while Nishura had his stupid hair spiked in pink. Hiroya with the old school Muy Thai arm bands and boxing shorts, which harkened back to the VHS days of watching kickboxing in the middle of the night on ESPN. Like many JMMA fights, Nishura’s wife was present, looking like she feared for the worst. Nishura bounced a lot and used foot work, but kept his hands down and did not properly protect himself, while Hiroya had a more typical kickboxing stance. Nishura exuded cockiness and smiled throughout. He won on style points but not technique. Overall he took more chances than Hiroya. Nishura threw a flying knee but was blocked. Lots of kicks were thrown by Nishura, with his lead leg kicks causing distance every time Hiroya got within range. A wild swing from Nishura took down Hiroya, but he got up immediately and it did not appear to be counted as knockdown, as the ref played it off as if nothing happened.
Round 3 had the same knockdown, but this time harder, with Hiroya immediately bouncing up as before and again the knock down was not called. Hiroya turned up pressure with head kicks and there was a double knockdown with Nishura taking the worst of it as he stayed down for at least a 3 count. Hiroya pounced him when he got back up and was able to knock him down quickly and with force. Nishura got up by 7 or 8, but the ref called it as he did not appear to be too with it. Nishura was held up by a teammate as he was walked out of the ring.
Winner: Hiroya (by KO in 1:10 of round 3)
Hinata Watanabe vs. Kazuyuki Miyata
K-1 Kickboxing rules: 3 minute rounds
This was another quick one, with Watanabe making short work of Miyata. Watanabe used Thai kicks to completely neutralize Miyata from the very start of the fight. He then knocked Miyata down with a shot. Miyata jumped up and knocked down Watanabe. Watanabe combined kicks and punches to keep advantage. Miyata walked into one of Watanabe’s shots and was knocked down a second time… and a third time… and a fourth time. The ref finally had enough and stopped the fight.
Winner: Watanabe (by TKO in 2:15 of round 1)
Anatoly Tokov vs. AJ Matthews
Super quick fight. It started with a feeling out process between the two. Matthews began to be the aggressor, kicking Tokov to his leg before CRACK! A GIANT RIGHT! Matthews flew backwards and Tokov tagged him several more times on his way to the ground.
Winner: Tokov (by TKO in 0:55 of round 1)
Kizaemon Saiga vs. Hideo Tokoro
This was a kickboxing contest. Both guys were wiry and quick, swinging for the fences and Tokoro was able to get Saiga into a side arm triangle and a mount. Again, Rizin strikes gold with the traditional shot of the spouse in peril, this time Saiga’s wife. You could hear her screaming throughout the fight. They even had her in a lower left corner Picture-in-picture on the screen throughout much of the fight.
Tokoro did an awesome roll to try to get a leg from Saiga. He hit a calf slicer attempt. Tokoro got the back and the two men almost fall out of the ring. There was more crazy screaming wife crying. Tokoro flipped Saiga to his stomach, still getting his back to try to put him in submission attempt. In the end, Tokoro hit a NICE armbar to finish Taiga.
Winner: Tokoro (by Armbar Submisison in 5:16 of round 1)
Hiroyuki Takaya vs. DJ Taiki (Daiki Hata)
Taiki started off with deep kicks and a spin kick. Takaya left the low kick unchecked, then Taiki threw a spinning back fist but Takaya held him against ropes for troubles. Takaya kept the punch and kick rate up while having back control, before Taiki reversed ad pinned Takaya against the turnbuckles. Takaya loaded up and fired a series of shots that do more damage than anything else in the round. Taiki’s mouth was bleeding by this point. Takaya looked like he was trying to finish Taiki, but Taiki got Takaya in an arm bar from top, firing shots while holding his legs. Takaya landed knees to Taiki’s head when he was getting up. Things went on this way for almost 3 rounds until a minute into the third, when Takaya cracked Taiki with a shot, leaving him stunned and almost finished. Taiki tied up Takaya to slow down the onslaught. Taiki tried hard to fight back and there were shots being thrown from both directions, just a ton of them, but Takaya just looked to be in better cardio. Taiki almost fell over on his own from exhaustion before Takaya helped tip him over and take him to the ground. He elbowed and kneed him for a bit with his neck trapped in hopes he could get a choke until the bell sounded.
Winner: Takaya (by Unanimous Decision)
Valentin Moldavsky vs. Yuta Uchida
This was one of those “you barely started “ type fights. Moldavsky took Uchida down immediately and just slung him across the ring like a brute, doing anything and everything he wanted to do to him. That meant slams, punches, tying him up, choking him (he was not afraid to use the ropes for assistance either). Moldavsky just punched the shit out of him from top and you knew it was just a matter of time. He flattened Uchida out to sink in a rear naked choke in about 2 minutes.
Winner: Moldavsky (by Rear Naked Choke Submission in 2:20 of round 1)
Muhammed Lawal vs. Brett McDermott
McDermott was a big scary mofo who looked like he beat people for a living, which is fortunate considering he is a professional fighter. Turns out, prior to entering the fight game, he was a rugby player, which makes sense considering how rough that sport is. Things started off rough early for Mo, but it didn’t take long to turn the tide. He took McDermott to the ground and was able to get side control. They got back to their feet for just a moment before Mo began hammering McDermott with shots. He was visible shaken, nose bloodied, and Mo followed up with a barrage of shots with 2 MASSIVE bombs as an exclamation point and Big John again said we’ve had enough. McDermott was no match for the strength and quickness of Mo, but there is no shame in losing to a much more experienced fighter.
Winner: King Mo (by TKO in 9:10 of round 1)
Teodoras Aukstuolis vs. Bruno Henrique Cappelozza
Karate Kid Aukstuolis came to the ring, looking like he was the missing link. Pretty nothing fight until Aukstuolis landed a shot that not only rocked Cappelozza, but made him look like he was fearing for his life. He fell to the ground on his ass and jumped back up knowing he had to figure something out. Pretty much the same thing happened for the rest of the fight, with Aukstuolis finally smashing Cappelozza to small pieces and ending him.
Winner: Aukstuolis (by KO in 3:32 of round 1)
Vadim Nemkov vs. Goran Reljic
This fight was going to end fast. Nemkov w/ kick early and Reljic kept moving forward despite walking into kicks but no damage it seemed. Nemkov started stalking Reljic and saw his opening to deliver a huge blow to drop him. Reljic continued to take fists for a bit until the fight was stopped by Big John McCarthy.
Winner: Nemkov (by KO in 2:58 of round 1)
Jiri Prochazka vs. Satoshi Ishii
This fight was simple. It was the story of a kick. Well, multiple kicks. To the head. Prochazka had one thing on his mind, and that was head hunting. He gave the appearance of throwing punches or trying to grapple, but he was one-track. He finally got a big kick to Ishii’s head, Ishii fell and then it took really only one big knee to the dome afterwards to finish the fight and have the ref jumping in.
Winner: Prochazka (by KO in 1:36 of round 1)
Shinya Aoki vs. Kazushi Sakuraba
Coming in, this may have been THE fight that I was hyped for, with the possible exception of Sapp/Akebono II (more on that later). I knew that while Saku is one of the all-time greats, the clock has run out on him being able to make that argument in the current landscape. Enter a much younger, quicker, and more importantly less beaten down Shinya Aoki. Going in, this felt like it was just a big set up to pass the torch on a big stage to an up 7 comer, but my love for Saku would not let me stare this thought in the face.
Saku landed huge kick early on, Aoki getting side control on Saku and utilized hammer fists. He got the full mount while Saku covered up. Saku tried to buck out but no luck. Aoki continued to do damage from the top while Saku almost looked like he can’t figure out what to do about it. Every roll attempt or buck was met with defense from Aoki, who by this point also controlled Saku’s left arm as well. Aoki got to Saku’s back in what could only signal the end. Aoki tried to flatten out Saku, but he would not stand for it. He also managed to roll back to his back so at least he’s wasn’t in as terrible of a position, for a minute at least until he stupidly let Aoki take his back again. Let’s face it folks, this is not the Saku of old, as he just got continually pounded for the next minute amd a half straight until the ref finally called the fight. Is this a sad ending to a glorious career?
After the fight, Saku came up to Aoki, who looked visibly shaken after having to fight him. They embraced, Saku left the ring, and very teary and broken up Aoki got on the mic and said he could never be Sakuraba and he could never be replaced. That moment got me teary eyed.
Winner: Aoki (by TKO Corner Stoppage in 5:56 of round 1)
What a great start to a promotion kicking off. I can’t wait for more, including the second event that followed this one by just a couple days on New Year’s Eve.